Fatherless Son

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming essay collection book, I Have Some Shit to Say.

Chapter 1: Fatherless Son

My first memory of my father was viewing his picture in my mother’s high school yearbook. To be quite honest, I was never really curious about him until I started kindergarten. Until that time, I resided during the week with my maternal grandmother. On Friday evenings, I would wait for my mother to visit. (She worked in another city during the week, did not have a driver’s license, so it was easier for her to live there, and for me to live with my grandmother). I thought this arrangement was normal. I really had nothing to compare it with. My grandmother and I had our own family, and that was enough for me. Although I wished that I could be around my mother more than just on weekends, even at the tender age of five, I understood that was best at the time. Then I entered kindergarten, and my classmates started to referring to this concept of a “father”. I knew this figure was a male like myself, older, and different than a mother or grandmother. So I began to wonder who my dad was: What did he look like? Where was he? What was his name? I didn’t dare ask. In my household, as a child, you spoke when someone spoke to you, and matters like this were considered “grown folks’ business.”

But the curiosity proved too much for my five year old inquisitive self. So I asked my mom, during one of our weekends together. I don’t know if it was the guilt of having to leave me with my grandmother for most of the week, her pity on my little doe eyed self, or she just happened to be in a good mood and willing to share such personal information, but she pursed her lips, sighed a little, and told me his name was Darnell Crawford. That was the end. The conversation did not go any further.

One day while rambling through an old trunk, I found my mother’s high school yearbook. The yearbook was from 1974, two years before my birth. I wasn’t sure of when either of my parents graduated, but I was determined to find my father’s picture. I had to know what he looked like, who the other half of me was. I took the yearbook out of the trunk, to my bedroom, and while my grandmother entertained guests, read her Bible, prayed, or did anything that would allow me to search through that book without any interruptions or risk of getting caught, I searched. For weeks I searched without any type of progress. Neither of my parents were active in school, so their class photos were the only indication that they had actually attended. I was in the area for class of 1975, and I ran across this picture for a Jerry Crawford. Could this be him? I couldn’t read all that well, but I knew that Darnell began with a D, and Jerry began with a J, so this had to be a different person. I don’t know what prompted my boldness on this day, maybe it was part curiosity, and part just tired of looking through this yearbook without progress, so I took the book to my mother, pointed to the picture of the Jerry Crawford guy, and blurted out, “Is this my daddy?” My mother was shocked and almost speechless, but she answered affirmatively with a shaking of her head. She continued by explaining to me, Darnell was his middle name, which is what everyone referred to him by, like Bu-Shea was mine, but his first name was Jerry. I expected a severe scolding for “getting in grown folks business.” Surprisingly, she let me return to my bedroom without a verbal tongue lashing, and I was alone with the picture of the man who had helped make me. I stared at this picture for weeks: the man with the bad skin, puny body, multi-colored shirt; I tried to find some resemblance, or some familiarity, but it was like looking at a magazine, no real connection, just a face and a name. My curiosity had been satisfied for the moment!

Four years later, it was the summer before my ninth birthday, and my mother was now living full time with my grandmother and me, and we had added a younger sister to the mix. My mother called me from my bedroom and stated, “Your dad is coming to visit today.” I was both nervous and curious. I was nervous because he was a stranger to me. What would we talk about? Would he like me? Would he continue to see me? I was curious because I wanted to know if he would look like the picture in the yearbook. My mother looked virtually the same, just with a different hairstyle. Would I look like him? People had told me up to this point that I resembled my mother, but would there at least be one resembling characteristic that would link the two of us?

Later that evening, he arrived, but he wasn’t alone. He brought his cousin with him. The only thing the same as his yearbook picture was the fact that he had on a loud, multicolored shirt. He was darker; he looked older. He had a generous amount of facial hair, which was wild and bushy, unkempt. We were awkward around each other, and if you placed a gun to my head, and asked what we talked about, I couldn’t honestly tell you. I remembered that my grandmother, went to her bedroom, which was next to the kitchen, which was next to the living room where we were, and read her Bible. My mother stayed in the kitchen, to give us privacy, but at the same time to ensure me that she was close.

The visit was pleasant enough, but not memorable. He stayed for less than an hour, and when he was ready to leave, the only affection I remember was him patting me on the head, and bestowing a gift of one dollar to both my sister and me. When he walked out of my grandmother’s living room that evening, it would be ten years before I would see him again.

In the fall of 1995, ten years after our initial and only visit ever in my life, I was reunited with my father, with the help of my mother. I was now a sophomore at A&T, nineteen years old, and had resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to have any type of relationship with my father. I was sitting in my dorm room, and my phone rang. My mother was on the line, and once we exchanged our initial pleasantries of: Had I eaten today? How was class? How were my grades? If I had seen any of my relatives who lived in Greensboro? Etc. She dropped a bombshell. She told me that she worked with my father’s cousin, and that she had secured his telephone number. This was before the days of cell phones, so I wrote the number down on my nearest notebook, and told her that I would call later.

The same nervousness that I had experienced ten years earlier at our initial meeting, returned. I didn’t allow myself to get excited or to have any expectations. Why? Because this man had met me ten years before, and had decided not to have any additional contact with me, so I was not about to set myself up for more disappointment. I convinced myself that I would call, since my mother had gone through the trouble of getting his number on my behalf, but any additional contact beyond the initial one, would be left up to him.

I paced inside my dorm room for several hours. I didn’t know this man! Yes, we had a biological link, but that was where our connection began and ended. What would I say to him? What would he say to me, with me calling him out of the blue, since there had been so many years since our last contact?

Finally, after about two hours of nervous pacing, I decided to get it over with. I dialed the number, and a male voice answered. “May I speak to Darnell please?” I was nervous as hell, and I didn’t want the phone slammed down in my ear. That would hurt too much. “Who wants to know?” The voice on the other end, became gruff and defensive. I know my voice stammered and probably dropped a few octaves. “Um, this is Corey….his son.” I added that last part in case he had forgotten that he had a son by that name. “Hey…it’s been awhile.” His voice had softened, became more inviting. I quickly explained to him that I didn’t want anything, and his cousin, who I still couldn’t identify, and I honestly don’t know how well my mother even knew him, had given my mother his number. He didn’t seem bothered, and continued to talk. We agreed to meet the next day after my classes were over, and my shift was over at my part time job, which at the time was a discount shoe store by the name of Shoe Show, in walking distance from campus.

Darnell picked me up from work the next night, and we went to his apartment. Apparently, he lived with his girlfriend, who was also the mother, of two of his four other children, but they were all asleep. We talked for a few minutes, and then he took me back to my dorm room, and we agreed to keep in touch.

The next time that Darnell visited me, he came to my dorm room. At the time, he asked me what I needed. Now mind you, my mother and grandmother didn’t raise me to be materialistic, so I just said the first thing that came to mind, a refrigerator for my dorm room. At the time, the school cafeteria had horrible food, and I found myself eating off campus more than I ate in the cafeteria. The problem with this was that I was spending a great deal of my income from my part time job on this food. I figured I would save money if I could actually purchase groceries, and a refrigerator would provide me with a place to store these groceries.

Darnell bought me a refrigerator, which at the time I think cost $150 (he had left the sales receipt on the box that it had been sold in). We stayed in touch sporadically over the next several years. Over this time, I eventually met the two girls who he called his daughters, and found out that one of the girls wasn’t biologically his (the oldest). She had been about fifteen months old when Darnell met her mother, so he was the only “dad” that she had ever known. Wasn’t this something? This man had been absent from my life for over nineteen years, but he was raising another man’s child? This cut deep, but if he couldn’t see the “wrong” in that situation, who was I to tell him so?

I also met Darnell’s mother, Patricia. I wasn’t really impressed with my other grandmother. Our one and only conversation that we ever had, she spent her time badmouthing my mother, discussing that when they used to come visit me as a baby, my mother was very protective, and thought they weren’t good enough to interact with me. I knew it was a lie. My mother is the last person to act like she was better than anyone. But I had been taught to respect my elders and to never correct other adults, and I let it slide.

It turns out, my father was also a product of a teen relationship. His maternal grandmother had raised him, causing he and his mother to be estranged, which is probably why I only met her once. He had five siblings, three sisters, and two brothers. I met one brother (Willie), and two of his sisters (Priscilla and Debbie). The other two siblings lived out of state, so it wasn’t possible to meet them. The one thing with my father’s family is they never reached out, they never seem “invested” in getting to know me. Once we exchanged contact information, I had to do all of the leg work. My mentality was that I have lived nineteen years without you, I’m not going to chase you now. I shouldn’t have to because we are family. Our relationship should be effortless, and it wasn’t with these people.

My father just couldn’t get the father/son relationship down to a science. I would go months without hearing from him, unless I specifically reached out to him. The truth was, he had a strained relationship with his own parents. In fact, his father, had died the summer after my high school graduation. The only way that I knew he had died, one of my cousins, who I happened to be working with at my summer job, read his obituary in the newspaper, saw my father’s name listed as one of his survivors, and told me. My only memory of my paternal grandfather was reading his obituary in the newspaper! From what my father had told me, his father had married, had three additional children, and forgotten about the “boy” that he had fathered as a teenager. He was also a terrible alcoholic, so he ended up losing that family and dying alone.

After years of living without my father, I didn’t expect much from him. I knew that I could depend upon my mother and grandmother, and this was enough for me. In my whole forty-one years of life, I can only remember two times, when he was actually there for me when I needed him.

A few short months after our reconnection after our ten year hiatus, my mother had to have surgery. I was away at school, two and a half hours away, did not have a car, nor a driver’s’ license, but I wanted to be with her during her surgery . I asked Darnell to take me. I didn’t expect him to say that he could, because anyone who knows my father, knows that he has never had a reliable car, and he was never dependable, but surprisingly he said yes. Darnell arrived on time, and took me to my grandmother’s house, so I could be with my mother during her surgery. Both the car ride, and the pickup went off without a hitch. He brought a cousin along, and the two of them mostly conversed while I watched the scenery from the back. When dealing with an absentee father, there is always the hope that they will get it right, but more than likely, it is always wishful thinking, or at least in my case. Even though the ride to my grandmother’s was unproblematic, returning to Greensboro was a little “dramatic.” My father had agreed to pick me up the following Sunday, around 2pm. The time came, and he was nowhere to be found. All I had was his home phone, and he wasn’t answering when I called. I began to panic! I had already missed a week of class time, and no one was available to return me to school, at least not to take me over such a long distance. Finally, around 6pm that afternoon, four hours after our agreed time, Darnell showed up with a million and one excuses. So as not to alienate or disrespect him, I just let it go. I just wanted to get back to school. Besides, my mother gave him an “earful” on my behalf. When he got back in the car, he said, “Your mama’s still mean.”

Another time Darnell was dependable was the summer before my senior of college. I was in the last week of classes for the second session of summer school. I had changed my major three times during my college tenure, and was behind in my major. Since my senior year consisted of student teaching (demo teaching), there wasn’t room in my schedule to “make up” classes, so I had to attend summer school if I wanted to graduate on time. About two days before classes were scheduled to end, I received a frantic call from my mother stating, my grandmother was bleeding internally, without any medical explanation, was receiving a blood transfusion, and she could possibly die at any moment. I was inconsolable. School was the last thing on my mind. I had to get to my grandmother. I telephoned my father, and he arrived on campus with a cousin. Apparently, my father had lost his license due to multiple DUI’s and unpaid court costs. Instead of getting on the road, someone was going to have to drive us, so I had to wait a few hours before we could get on the road. Cell phones were available, but only the affluent could afford them at this point. For me, so besides my mother’s initial call, I had no idea of my grandmother’s condition. I was distracted and nervous for the entire car ride. When we arrived in my hometown, instead of taking me to the hospital to be with my family, he took me to my grandmother’s house, and I had to wait until my mother arrived home the next morning to receive an update on my grandmother’s condition. Luckily, the doctors discovered her ulcers were inflamed, which caused the internal bleeding, and she was released a few days later, and despite the initial grim diagnosis, she would live on for another two years.

The last memory of my father was in May 1998. It was Tuesday after my college graduation, the previous Saturday. I had secured a room in a rooming house near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and I was walking to get something to eat. My father had this loud ass van; you could hear him a mile before he reached you. As I was walking, he came up behind me on this clunker, and asked did I need a ride. I told him that I was okay. He told me that he had been at my college graduation. I didn’t know if this was true. We hadn’t spoken in months, so there was no conversation about times, dates, etc., but I was too preoccupied to belabor the point. He asked if I needed anything. I told him no. As I watched his van pull away, there was a part of me that knew I would probably never see him again. Call it a sixth sense, or intuition, but there was something in the finality of our goodbyes, which let me know our highly fractured, dysfunctional, and short lived relationship was over. This was 1998, and I have never seen him again.

I have heard rumblings here and there of people spotting him close to my hometown, which indicates he may have completely settled back in that area, which makes sense, because he also has two more daughters in that area. Maybe, he wanted to be close to them. I have struggled for many years with the guilt and shame over our fractured relationship. Like maybe, I should have tried harder. Even though it was more work than I wanted to do at the time, maybe it’s my fault that we didn’t have a better relationship. I replayed in my mind, every conversation, every interaction: Was I disrespectful? Did I make him feel unwanted? Did I make him feel, as if I was ashamed of him? As I asked these questions and more, I always come up empty. I never disrespected him. I was always cordial. If he felt unwanted, it was because I never had been the type of person to “use” people, so if he asked if I needed anything, I wasn’t going to tell him I needed something when I didn’t.

It took many years, many bad decisions to come to terms with the fact that my father was a damaged soul. His parents had abandoned him, left his care to his maternal grandmother, so he was doomed before he ever had a chance. A fractured individual like that, had nothing to give another human being, much less a child. I realize that now. But as a kid, all I knew was that he didn’t want me, and it had to be something I had done. As a teenager and very young adult, I had serious “daddy” issues, which I acted out in the partners I chose for intimacy. I was nineteen and twenty years old sleeping with individuals in their forties, somehow hoping to find the love and acceptance that I couldn’t get from my father. Although if you had asked me back then when I was participating in this behavior, I would have chalked it up to just being raised by my grandmother, not having other peers my age to play with as a young child, and being more mature than most people my age. All of those things were true, but had nothing to do with my sexual behavior, or those who I chose to share my body with during my young adulthood.

If there was any silver lining to my father’s abandonment, was the good, prosperous life that I had without him. Yes, I grew up poor, had to do without many material things, but my grandmother and mother together, gave me good, core values, kept me safe as they possibly could, and did their best. I often think about what my life might have been like had my father been a consistent influence, and I can honestly say, that I would be a much different individual and not in a good way. My father’s world consisted of drugs, a constant barrage of different women, sketchy individuals, and a life in and out of jail due to nonpayment of child support for his various offspring. My life would have been even more unstable. And then there’s the emotional side of it. My father has never hugged me; never told me that he loved me, never shared any intimacy beyond a basic handshake. I blamed this for years on our lack of relationship, but I have witnessed him interact with others, and the interaction is the same, so I truly don’t think he has it in him to be intimate, beyond basic sex, with others. Whereas, with my grandmother and mother, I knew from the time I could talk, I was loved, cared for, and they implanted a seed of belief I could do or accomplish anything, as long as I willed myself to do it.

Another positive effect living without my father had on my life was that I never dated, slept with, or interacted with anyone on an intimate level who was not a good parent. I felt it was hypocritical of me to be involved with someone, if they were present in their children’s lives. Although this may seem judgmental to some, it was a personal code that I lived by. It was my belief if they were a bad parent, I would be taking precious time away from their children, and I was enabling their behavior. I didn’t want any child to experience the self-loathing and doubt that I had experienced during my childhood and early adulthood.

I also made a choice to never have children. There was a small window of time around age twenty-five, where I mulled it over in my head for a few short months, but I quickly nixed the idea, and I am grateful. Back then, I was completely damaged, making bad life choices, and I had nothing to give a child. I would have simply been continuing a vicious cycle. The child deserved better than me, and I deserved better for myself. I wish more individuals would recognize this. For some, I think it is societal pressure. Their thinking is well, I have gotten married, so this is the obligatory next step. For some, they feel, it is because they need for someone to love them. I have literally heard individuals say this. A poor, innocent, defenseless child shouldn’t bear the burden of making you whole, or loving you. The child is doomed from the onset. Sometimes, I wonder who will take care of me when I am older, or what type of legacy I will leave this earth. As each year passes, these ideas rest heavily on my mind, but I realized both then and now, a child needs a stable, loving environment in which to thrive. I couldn’t provide that at twenty-five, and although I am more stable now, I have also learned, that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should!


Writer, Professor. Published my second book, I Have Some Shit to Say, memoir/essay collection in 2018! You can find me on Twitter at @coreybking

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Corey B. King

Writer, Professor. Published my second book, I Have Some Shit to Say, memoir/essay collection in 2018! You can find me on Twitter at @coreybking